Tuesday, April 4, 2017

THE BEAST (LA BÊTE) (1975) - *

Rated X
Running time: 93 min.
Release date: August 20, 1975

The Beast opens with a quote from Voltaire and ends with a dream of a naked young woman burying a hairy beast in leaves. Everything that happens in between is a test of the viewer's will. From scenes of horses clearly copulating in full view, to scenes involving an interracial tryst that constantly gets interrupted, to scenes of a woman masturbating madly to bestial fantasies, the film seems to want to arouse the audience with explicit scenes of sexuality and virile beasts. Unfortunately, what it accomplishes borders on boredom for the first sixty minutes, then taking a left turn into a dream sequence so over-the-top that it is almost a completely different film.

Mathurin (Pierre Benedetti) and Lucy (Lisbeth Hummel) are meeting at the behest of Lucy's late father in order to be married. Mathurin lives with his father, Pierre (Guy Tréjan) in a crumbling family estate. Great fortune comes with this marriage, and Pierre will do anything to see it done, including baptizing his son and lying about it to the local priest. The marriage ceremony needs to be performed by the Cardinal Joseph de Balo, however, who has had a falling out with the family. This leads to a subplot involving an interminably dull wait to see if the Cardinal shows up or not. Meanwhile, Lucy has heard rumors of a centuries-old story involving a beast and a female ancestor of Mathurin's, takes pictures of horses in the middle of their mating session and then taking the time to pleasure herself at the idea of doing it like they do on the Discovery Channel....before it became all about fishing boats and Shark Week. There is also a subplot involving Pierre blackmailing his uncle into making amends with his brother, the Cardinal, which leads to an unnecessary twist that is forgotten about until near the end. The plot seems to be paper thin on the surface, and it is stretched out so much that it is dull and lifeless and uninteresting. By the time we get to the truly X-rated portion of the story, it's an hour in nothing has really happened.

The director, Walerian Borowczyk, has essentially created arthouse porn. The dream sequence does have some artistic merit, as it has a hazy dream-like quality to it. The sun pouring in through the thick forest is immaculately filmed, along with a pastoral scene involving a run-away lamb. Then we get Romilda (Sirpa Lane) encountering the beast in the forest, running from it and somehow losing every stitch of clothing along the way. If Borowczyk was going for erotica, then something was lost in the translation, because it turns out to be hilariously bad. The poor pacing of the first hour has suddenly picked up much too late to save the film; on top of that, we're now treated to the Brazzers-lite version of Beauty and the Beast. All the gorgeous cinematography in the world can't add anything to that. Underlying the entire thing is a score by Scarlatti that seems to add a comic tone to all the beastly ejaculating.

The cast appear to all be dignified actors trying their best to make this a somewhat dignified story about repression and religious hypocrisy. However, Borowczyk's screenplay is at fault here, not providing enough wit, especially since Borowczyk seems to want to turn things into a black comedy.

The Beast is definitely a weak example of an erotic horror fantasy film. Sure, the mating techniques of animals is completely natural and maybe even a beautiful thing, but Borowczyk presents that idea in a blunt and grotesque manner, leaving the audience testing their will to leave before it's over.

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